Lured by Love, Accepted by Christ
About the Guest
"Mike was different in a good kind of way...he just loved me like I was. I just watched him, his love for his family, his compassion...his motivation was supernatural." So says Dr. Charles Barg of his old friend, Mike, as he recalls how he first became interested in the Christian faith.
Dr. Charles Barg recalls how he first became interested in the Christian faith.
Lured by Love, Accepted by Christ
Bob: When Charlie Barg turned his life over to Christ, it seemed to his family as if he was turning his back on his heritage and on tradition.
Charles: My dad was a lifelong Jew who was extremely proud of being Jewish and to him it was a cultural thing. Nobody in our whole family, all the way back to Abraham, has been anything else but Jewish. But when I became a Christian in 1980, I knew that would, in his mind, mean that I was rejecting his way of life.
Most of the time, in the mind of a Jew, if you become a Christian, then that is spiritual treason. That error has been reproduced and perpetuated by sometimes well-meaning Christians who don't understand what a Jewish person is going to have to go through if they become a Christian.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, June 11th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. And, Dennis, today we're going to hear about what a young man does go through when he makes that decision to convert to Christianity. In fact, we've been hearing this story unfold over the last couple of days, and everything we've heard, so far, really is a prelude to the conclusion that we're going to hear about on today's program.
Dennis: That's right. We've been talking to Dr. Charlie Barg. Charlie, I want to welcome you back to the broadcast.
Charles: Thanks, Dennis.
Dennis: I so appreciate you joining us, and I also appreciate the work you did in writing. He's a great doctor and a great writer. His book is "Between Two Fathers," and Charlie and his wife Linda live here in Little Rock. We go to church together. They have four adult children, and, as Bob mentioned, we talked about Charlie's childhood, his Jewish childhood, and growing up; then his dating of a Presbyterian Gentile and how she came to convert to Judaism and ultimately the reconciliation into Charlie's family. But today we want to talk about your conversion to Christianity and, before we do that, though, I need you to do something for our listeners. I've always wanted to ask a Jewish believer to explain to our Gentile listeners – help us to understand the mind of a Jew.
Charles: Well, in the first place, to answer your question, to help you understand that, he who does that grasps the wind. I love being Jewish. I am extremely proud of my Jewish heritage. The thought of going back in descendancy from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the patriarchs – that's very, very exciting, you know. But basically – and let me say, as I say this, I want to be very careful that I may not be speaking for all the Jews. But most of the time, in the mind of a Jew, if you become a Christian then that is spiritual treason, and you just have to think back about that.
Think of all the years of persecution that the Jewish people have gone through since the dispersion from the country after the invasion of Jerusalem, the final invasion, in 70 A.D. And think of the way Jewish people have been forced to convert to Christianity – the Spanish Iniquisition, for example, with the Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada – if you didn't convert and be baptized, they would put you on the auto-da-fe, which is the fire. They'd burn you at the stake. And think of the pogroms, the persecutions in Europe over the years.
So I think there has been a satanic or a demonic influence that has caused a rift between the Jew and the Gentile, where the Jew feels like if he becomes a Christian, he has to give up his entire Jewish heritage, and the other side is the Christians would think that the Jew has to conform to a certain set of standards and not be Jewish anymore.
Bob: At some level, for a Jew to become a Christian, is to – you referred to it as becoming a spiritual traitor – you are aligning yourself with the people who have traditionally been the enemies of your family, your race, your heritage, the nation that you came from. You become a traitor. You've gone to the enemy.
Dennis: Okay, so here you are, coming from a Jewish family – you've pretty much grown up outside of any message about Jesus Christ, and then you found yourself in med school and ran into a mutual friend. I didn't know this until I read your book, but Dr. Mike Hendren proved to be the first bit of God's light that began to break through the darkness in your life.
Charles: Yes, Dennis, you know, it's not so much what we say to people that makes them want to examine the claims of Jesus Christ, but it's more what we are. There are people like Billy Graham who can speak to large audiences, and we know that the Holy Spirit takes His message and drives it into the minds of those that he has already prepared. But, for most of us, the way is prepared by – we have to be different. If we're not different, it doesn't matter what we say. There is nothing appealing about our lives that would make anyone want our God and our Savior, Jesus Christ. If we espouse Scriptures, if we can throw Scriptures out as fast as we can think, you know, stream-of-consciousness Scriptures, as some are inclined to do, to the point where we seem to know the New Testament and the Old Testament and biblical knowledge but we don't have love and patience and tolerance and understanding and a feeling of compassion that people – the Jewish people can sense – or any person, for that matter – then what do we have that they really want?
Bob: You sound a little like the Apostle Paul here from 1 Corinthians 13 – "If I know all prophecies, and if I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but if I have not love, I am a clanging cymbal." I am not going to be effective. Love really is what wins out at the end of the day, isn't it?
Charles: Yes, it does, Bob, it does. As a doctor, I saw a whole new way of life, and I knew that doctors were supposed to be an example within the communities. That they were supposed to be compassionate and loving; that they were supposed to have good lives and strong families, and Mike had all those qualities. And I watched his life without asking very many questions, and I knew that he was different. And that's the first time in my life that I considered that his motivation, what made him different than me, was something supernatural. I just didn't understand what that supernatural was.
Dennis: You then had a cabinetmaker by the name of Steve Johnson, and he had the moxie to negotiate not only the deal to make the cabinets for you but to also negotiate a one-hour discussion with you about his faith.
Charles: He did. You know, Steve is a fellow that – he'd become a Christian during the Vietnam War. He was in the service, and got involved with the Navigator program, an excellent program. When he came back to town, I had a lady typing for me, and I needed an assistant. She said, "I know a young man that wants to go to medical school, and he's a really good, hardworking young man, and we go to church together."
I interviewed him, and I was very impressed with him, and he came to work for me as a physician's assistant. Now he's a doctor practicing out in Sedona, Arizona.
Well, he heard me talking to a carpenter about remodeling my house, and he heard the price I was quoted, and he said, "Why pay that? I can build that a lot cheaper for you. Why don't you let me build that?" And so I asked him how much, and he said, "Oh, I wouldn't charge you. I just want an hour of your time." And so being Jewish, that sounded like a reasonable deal.
Dennis: An hour of your time to talk with you about …
Charles: … to talk with me. He didn't say what about, but I knew. I guess my mind had put it together that Christians liked to share their faith with other people. I knew that he – to me, I would have used the word – he was going to try to "convert" me. I'd have a different expression today, but I thought, "Yeah, he wants to convert me," and I thought if somebody converts you then that's another notch in their cap, and you get glorified in your religious institution, and I just kind of put all that into a works-based worldview.
So he built the cabinets, and then he didn't say anything to me. And then a few weeks later, he said, "Are you going to be busy tonight?" I said, "Oh, good grief," and I looked at my watch and, of course, I was busy, and I intended, sort of, to do it, but I continued to put him off. And finally he – about 10 minutes later, he just showed up at my house. Actually, I was packing to go to Houston to see a cousin who was dying in the hospital at the M.D. Anderson Clinic.
Then he said, "Well, Charles, if we don't meet tonight, I don't know if I'll ever be able to. You're kind of slippery for me." And he said, "I've come to collect." So I sat down, and he took out a simple piece of paper, and he drew a very small diagram for me. He didn't overwhelm me. He had a – there was his opportunity. Instead of jumping through that window like his own reputation was on the line or protecting his own ego or anything, he looked at me, and he drew a very simple diagram Dennis. I can see it like it was yesterday.
It was the two cliffs with God on one side and mankind, a person, me, Charles Barg, on the other side – and in between the cliffs was an unreachable valley, and he showed that mankind tries to get over on the side of God, and he tries by different ways, sometimes very creative, but always by works. You can join a church, you can be baptized, you can go to Bible studies, you can do good works for people, charity – tzedakah, as we say in Hebrew – all those things. But none of those things gets you to the other side where you know that you have an eternal relationship with the living God.
The only way to get there is by simple faith in Christ. That's where you look up, and you say, "God is real. If He is real, what is the world all about? Is He going to rescue me from this?" Because the life doesn't make sense if you really look at it – with the brutality and the sinfulness and the things that go on around us every day. Life actually makes no sense without the certainty that there is a living God.
You know, we cannot go be with God unless we're 100 percent, perfectly holy. That means you've never sinned. No one is without sin. So if God cannot dwell with sin, and I am going to be with Him for eternity, then I can't do that on my own record. I need a substitute. And he explained the whole idea of the substitutionary atonement of Christ's work on the cross. That, to me, was astounding. I remember my mouth kind of dropped open. That seemed to easy, too simple, and I thanked him, but I wasn't offended. That's a major point – I was not offended.
I remember thinking about that on the way to Houston and thinking about that a little bit on the way back, and then a couple of weeks later Steve again was going to a church in North Little Rock, and he said, "Hey, there's a Jewish man speaking in our church in north Little Rock – Arnold Fruchtenbaum." He said, "Arnold became a Christian when he was 12. He was born in the old country and underwent persecution from pogroms and things as a young boy, yet, at age 12, in New York City, he came to know Christ as his personal Savior. And his family was even more Orthodox than mine. He came from a family of Hassidic Jews, which is like that mystical Jews of the ultra-Orthodox.
And he invited me to do that, and I said – but Mike Hendren came down and was listening to Steve invite me to that, but Mike didn't say anything. So a week later the night came for me to go hear this man speak at the church in North Little Rock, and as we walked outside, I said, "Gosh, Steve, I sure wish I could go with you, but I haven't made my hospital rounds yet. I didn't get them finished this morning." And Mike is kind of a quiet guy – Mike got this big grin on his face, and he said, "You don't have any hospital rounds." I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well, I made them all for you."
Mike had gone by the hospital, seen all my patients, made the rounds, written the orders …
Dennis: … he'd removed the excuse.
Charles: He'd removed the excuse, he'd removed the excuse. I was without excuses. I remember, I just looked over, and I grinned, and I gave that look of resignation that said, "Hey, guys, I don't think I would have gone, anyway." I was kind of being honest with them, and they gave me the look back like, "We know."
So we went that night, and God's providence I have to kind of share with you – I think this was really a great night in my life, because that was a prophecy conference, Dennis. Actually, that was a prophecy conference, and that would have been so over my head, but that night I sat in the very back, the back row, because I wanted to as close to the door as I could be. Arnold spoke on the outworking of the Abrahamic covenant.
And I've told you I'd been a member of B'nai B'rith, sons of the covenant. That's the first night that I ever knew what the covenant was that I was a son of – for the first time in my life, or at least since I was a little boy, I knew there was a God. I could see His footprints through history, and I didn't know about Jesus Christ then, but what I didn't realize is that I didn't believe that there was a living God. I don't mean to be provocative or anything like that, but my suspicion, and many of the Jewish friends and relatives that I have experienced, thought just like I did – that may be the key to your initial question – the mystique of the Jewish mindset.
And so among many of my people, the Jewish people, there is a feeling that if there is an afterlife, and they'll be quick to tell you that we don't live for an afterlife. If there is, that's great, but we live so that our descendants who follow us will have good lives. In other words, what goes around comes around. So it's living for today so that you'll leave your mark on the society that you live in, rather than living for the hereafter, which, if it's going to be, that's good. You've done a good job. But, if not, you're still in good shape because your children and your children's children follow along and follow your example.
Dennis: You left that evening; went back to your home – did you talk to Linda, your wife, about what you'd heard? Or did you come to a point of decision that evening?
Charles: No, I didn't. At that point I got very cautious and very deliberate, because I was shaken down to my toenails that here, you know, just coming out of medical school and having a practice and being someone that other people look up to, and a person that has all the answers, sometimes to life and death or who, at least, appears to – I heard something that night that was bigger than anything I'd ever studied or imagined, and it was a totally foreign concept to my mind. It frightened me and, at the same time, it was intriguing.
I became intellectually convinced, after a period of time – months – that God was real and that Jesus Christ, the Jewish way to say that is "Yushua hav Moshiach," which means Jesus the Messiah, was really His son, and the only way that God has set forth to know Him. But then I had a bigger problem – I believed it intellectually but I didn't want to own it. And that scared me, because I would think – part of that time I considered myself to be open-minded, but if you could convince me of anything intellectually, I would have no difficulty in making that part of my general belief system.
Dennis: In other words, you were intellectually honest …
Charles: … yes …
Dennis: … but, being intellectually honest, you realized that if Jesus Christ was who He claimed to be, that you had to yield …
Charles: … the implication of that …
Dennis: … to those claims and yield your life to Him.
Charles: The implication of that was overpowering to me. I just didn't know what to do with that. Finally, one night I went out, and I – it hit me that I've got to resolve this tension. It's too much. I got on my knees on the back porch of our home in Little Rock, and it was about 2 or 3 in the morning, and I looked up at the moon, and I said, "Lord, if You are real, if You prove it to me, if You convince me in my heart, I'll follow You for the rest of my life. You can have the rest of my life." And, Dennis, there weren't any thunderbolts, I didn't see a vision or anything like that, but somehow in saying that, I was saying more in my heart, and I submitted at a deeper level. Then I went in and went to sleep for the first time in months and just slept so soundly, and I woke up rested the next day and within a day or two or three, I knew I was different. Something had – I'd surrendered somewhere deep inside my being.
Bob: As you have wrestled with the implications of placing your faith in Christ, part of that wrestling had to be "I've got a wife who converted to Judaism. Now I'm going to convert to Christianity. Where does that leave her? I've got a family. I've got a dad I'd have to go to and say 'Hey, Dad, I'm a Christian. I'm a traitor.'" I mean, as much as surrendering your life to Christ, this is going to mess up everything, isn't it?
Charles: Oh, yes, that was a scary time. It really was. You know, I was reading a book also by Arnold Fruchtenbaum around that time, and I had been reading it, and I left it on the counter. It was called "Jesus Was a Jew" – a pretty provocative title. And Linda would see me studying. So she knew something was happening, and she became concerned, and so she shared what I had been reading. She didn't know the process I was going through, because I didn't say much to her with my Dad.
Dennis: She tattled on you?
Charles: She tattled on me. But Steve had come over – she asked Steve what was going on – the same Steve Johnson, the nurse that had shared with me, and Steve had come over and drawn the cliff diagrams for her. And all of her life in church, she had never heard that. She had never heard that. She had never seen that it was that simple, and she didn't know what do with that. I didn't know that at the time, but she went through kind of a – almost like a bipolar phase there for a couple of months where, on one hand, she was intrigued by the cliff diagram that he showed her about how simple it was to know that she had eternal life with Jesus Christ and, on the other hand, she was so comfortable in her Judaism – I mean – she kept kosher, she was what you would call an observant Jew. She helped start the Hebrew Day School program here in Little Rock. Most of her friends were Jewish friends. So she was really threatened. All of her new relationships and all of her concept of life, and she didn't know what to do with that, and she was afraid, so she shared that with my dad, and he came over and talked to her. So they conspired together to see what was going on with me and to bring me back to the faith if I was drifting away.
So as she began to read – she picked up a Bible and started reading it to see what it was she could have possibly missed and to try to find some plane of cleavage where she could break through and explain where I was wrong. The Holy Spirit began to convict her.
Bob: So had you told her that you'd made a profession of faith – that you'd placed your trust in Christ?
Charles: I don't remember exactly what I told her. I didn't tell her very much. I was still kind of going through the process. She tells me that she saw a change in me. She saw a softening. As I said, I couldn't find enough accomplishment and activity to fill the God-sized vacuum in my heart. But she saw me coming at peace with the world, and the contentment and joy and peace – we didn't have a church. We weren't going to church.
She began to read and became convicted by the Holy Spirit, and over the next month she became very restless. One night I woke up, she wasn't in bed. I went into the kitchen, as I looked through the window, she was sitting out on the porch, and she'd asked Christ that night to be her Savior, and she was crying, and we've followed Him ever since. That was around November of 1980.
Bob: We have to know what happened when you sat down with your dad and said, "Dad, I not only married a Gentile girl, but I put my faith in the Gentile God."
Charles: Well, surely, it's so obvious to me now, if he hears the truth, he is going to respond to it and, boy, what a relationship we're going to have then. He's going to get so excited. And so I did go share with him, and he was excited all right, but in the other direction. Typical of my dad, he didn't get mad, but he was very, very disappointed, and the rest is kind of a long story, but that began about a 20-year period of time where my dad – I could have a discussion with him about it at any time. He never stopped me from doing that, and sometimes he would call me up and ask me questions, and I could reason with him.
But he never, that I know of, embraced it, and it was kind of a strange and curious relationship after that, because he would – business associates and friends, he would invite them to come hear me if I was speaking at a church or giving my testimony, or if they were struggling with some spiritual matter – in their church – his Gentile friends – and he'd tell them, "You've got to go hear my son. He knows the Bible," or "He reads the Bible." But he never let me know that he really embraced it.
One time he told me, and there's a lot more story in the book, particularly – he told me, "Even if I believe it's true, I couldn't do it because I believe I would be disappointing my parents."
Dennis: Amazing. You know, one thing you can't deny is that God has worked in your life and Linda's, and I happen to know Jack Sternberg and his wife Marilyn – and I think your book, "Between Two Fathers," is going to be used by God to see – well, many Gentiles get a copy of it and put it in the hand of a Jewish friend, after they've read it, of course, and perhaps use it to open a discussion and a dialog about their faith. And I think your instruction to us over the past couple of days has helped us better understand how a Jewish person thinks and how we can better represent Christ as we would seek to share Him with them. And I want to thank you for being on our broadcast and for sharing your story.
Charles: Thanks, Dennis.
Bob: We've got copies of the book available in our FamilyLife Resource Center. You can contact us at 1-800-FLTODAY or go online at FamilyLife.com, and just think right now of someone you may know – someone you work with or someone in your neighborhood who is from a Jewish family. This book could be a device, a bridge, to open communication about the Gospel. You can call 1-800-FLTODAY to request a copy. You can go online at FamilyLife.com. Again, the title of the book is "Between Two Fathers."
When you get in touch with us, you might also ask about a book that you released, Dennis. It's a book about the importance of honoring our parents, which is a part of God's command to us, and you have some very specific suggestions about how we can prepare a formal tribute as a way to express honor to our parents and about the power of that exercise in the relationship between a child and a parent.
You can find more information about Dennis's new book online at FamilyLife.com or ask about it when you call 1-800-FLTODAY. Again, the number is 1-800-358-6329, and our website is FamilyLife.com.
Well, I hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together in church this weekend, and I hope you can be back with us on Monday when Steve Farrar is going to join us. We're going to talk about the things a dad can do to anchor his family in Christ for 100 years. That's a pretty good goal, isn't it? I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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